Jonathan’s Top 20 Games

You’d be surprised how many times I get an email asking, “Hey, what game should I play?” Personally, I just always go to our web page and start searching for a game that fits the format I’m looking for. For example, if I have a ton of kids in a gym, I go straight to our BIG ROOM GAMES page. If I have an audience that I don’t want to break up, then I go to our AUDIENCE GAMES page.

Sometimes my needs are a little more specific. Sometimes I’ll want to do some games with a small group, in a living room and I can’t make a mess. That’s when I’ll usually go to our CUSTOM GAME SEARCH TOOL (it’s so cool!) and plug in the info and location I need… and bada boom bada bang… instant game list!

So that’s how I do it.


You still want to know what game to play?

Okay… here’s my top 10 favorites.

What? More?

Okay! Okay! Here’s my top 20!

Nothing like starting youth group off with a “grotesque” UP-FRONT GAME that makes people howl with laughter. File this one under the “fun with a blender” category.

Go down to your local McDonalds and pick up three or four happy meals. Pre-pick three or four willing contestants and bring them up front. (Make sure you follow “Jonathan’s Seven Sins of Game Leading” tips here- especially #2- being prepared and #7- making sure the entire crowd can see clearly.)

Blend the happy meals together (burger, fries and drink) in front of them. Then, fill up equal CLEAR cups for each person. The rest is a race to see who can drink their “happy shake” the fastest. Be careful. You might want one or two big trash cans near the front for participants who don’t like the shakes.

3 Happy Meals
Clear cups
A big trash can

I had about 1400 jr. high students and staff crowded into a sanctuary and we had to keep them entertained before the speaker. What would you do?

Everybody loves to see someone else get messy- so I went for the ol’ pie in the face scenario in a game I call “COMMIT.”

Commit is a simple game where you explain that you will be asking some questions to the audience. Instruct them that if someone knows the answer to the question, they simply raise their hand … IF they are willing to COMMIT to the consequences of answering that question. Then display the prizes that you are offering that evening. (I usually choose a cheap MP3 Player, a bucket of Red Vines— that’s licorice for those of you who are deprived of these because you’re not from the West, a popular basketball jersey . . . whatever prizes kids actually want!) Then let them know that if they do not answer the question correctly they get held by your assistant while you stick a pie in their face.

Start the game by asking a simple question: “Question number one. Remember, if you want a chance at the prize just raise your hand- but if you raise your hand, you commit to the consequences of that answer if it is wrong. Question number one . . . a white liquid that we drink and put on our breakfast cereal that comes from cows is called . . . ?” Hands will shoot up all over the room. Bring a student up and have one of your staff members hold them (with their arms behind their back)- ask his or her name, what school they go to, etc., etc. Then repeat the simple question and tell them they have 5 seconds to answer. The student will most likely get it right. Give him or her the prize and let them on their way, leading the audience in applause as the contestant returns to his or her seat. However, the kid might WANT a pie in their face and actually say the wrong answer or not answer within the 5 seconds. Be sure to nail him with the pie the second his time is up or the second he says the wrong answer and escort him off the stage WITHOUT his prize. Then let everyone know the answer was “milk.”

NOW every kid in the place can taste the next prize. “Question two. In the movie THE LION KING, the name of the young lion was . . .” Pause here and hands will shoot up everywhere if they aren’t already up. At this point bring up the person and ask their name, school, etc.. Remind them that they are committed to answer the question correctly or they get a pie in their face. Then say, “Now let me finish the question. In the movie THE LION KING, the name of the young lion was . . . Simba. Simba’s adolescent voice was played by the Actor Mathew Broderick. Name Mathew’s first 8 theatrical release films!” As you can see, this kid will get a pie.

Continue the game in this fashion. I usually throw in easy questions then a hard one, in no particular order. Great fun and worth a lot of laughs!

Tarp for stage area
Pie tins
Whip Cream
2 assistants (one to hold students, one to load up pies)
towels for students clean up
5 really cool prizes
Pre-prepared questions (with appropriate pause point to sucker them in)

This is the one of the great up front games where you give a chance for men to be men . . . and for them to later wonder whether or not they should have volunteered!

Pre-arrange for three to five guys to come up front and prove how manly they are. Each guy will have three pre-arranged girls to be his assistants. Provide each guy with a XXX Extra large T-shirt which they put on over their bare torso and tuck in real well (again- smart to have done prior). Have a cooler of at least 20 pounds of ice (I use about 40 pounds) in front of each volunteer, with three large scoopers handy.

When you say “go,” the girls begin shoveling the ice into their guy’s T-shirt. This is hilarious to watch and painful to experience.

Give the 10 second warning after a minute or two, depending on the crowds interest.

You can simply declare the guy with the most ice in his shirt the winner, or you can have the crowd vote by applause.

Hint: Save yourself a lot of clean up by having the ice-stuffed guys escorted outside for emptying and changing of clothes.

20 pounds of ice PER contestant
Cooler for each 20 pounds or so
3-5 XXX Extra Large T-shirts

Get some surgical gloves- rubber- the kind that blow up. (You’ll want to find a medical supply place and buy some large ones.) Have several contestants come up and pull the gloves over their own heads, all the way down to just above their mouths. (CAUTION: ask for kids that DON’T have latex allergies!)

Have them blow with their noses, inflating the gloves on their head. After 90 seconds see who’s glove is blown the biggest. (Take Caution that the balloons don’t pop or snap students in the eye! Also, make sure none of your student participants don’t have a latex allergy—obviously, they can’t participate if they do!)

Surgical glove for every contestant

Like the old 70’s TV game show. Pre-arrange four contestants for this game. Take them aside beforehand and have them share a funny/interesting story that happened to them when they were young that they can say in one sentence. (e.g. My name is Billy and when I was 5, I was walking with my mom and a big guy ran by and grabbed my mom’s purse!) If that is the story that sounds the best, have all 4 contestants use their real name and say the same story. (e.g. My name is Teresa and when I was 5, I was walking with my mom and a big guy ran by and grabbed my mom’s purse!) All contestants will tell the audience the exact same thing as if it is their story- but only one of them is telling the truth. Open up the audience to question individual contestants (like an Oprah show) and three of the contestants will have to lie through their teeth. Then have the audience vote who this really happened to. Then have the real person step forward. Great fun!

Why is it that we enjoy beating the snot out of one another?

Place buckets up-side down, about 3 feet apart.
-2 players stand on buckets, each with a joust stick or pillow (pillow fight style)
-When judge says “go,” each player tries to knock the other player off his bucket.
-Try to discourage “head shots” and other “cheap shots.”

Remember to stop this game while they still want more!

Supplies: -2 five gallon buckets
-2 jousting sticks (4 ft. sticks with foam rubber ends) or two pillows
-Soft area to play (grass area or padded floor)

The “live video feed” reminds me of another fun game I did. If fact, it was the first live video feed I ever did. I was in high school at the time and I helped run a jr. high event where we introduced a game, “Bobbing for Bananas!” This doesn’t sound like a big deal . . . unless you’re in a church with a baptistry that you’ve filled with milk and the bananas are sunk at the bottom 4 feet down! (I was young- so don’t write me if you’re offended by this!) We had a camera at the entrance to the baptistry, interviewing each “bobber” as they disappeared into the 50 gallon tank for what seemed like minutes before emerging with a banana in their mouth.

Large swimming area that can hold milk
Several huge boxes of powdered milk
approx. 20 peeled bananas
bucket for soggy bananas
towels for wet bobbers
optional live video feed

Live video feed note:
Kid’s love to see themselves and their friends on the big screen. You can set one up very simply. We went to Radio Shack and bought a couple hundred feet of coaxial cable. We put an RCA jack on each end (converting it to an RCA cable) and plugged one end to a video camera’s VIDEO OUT and the other end to a VCR’s VIDEO IN. It’s as simple as it sounds. Have the VCR go into your TV or VPU and you’ve got VIDEO. NOTE: This is only the VIDEO- you will still need a wireless mike hooked to your sound system for your AUDIO.

Two people sitting very close at a small table in chairs facing each other compete to drink a full glass of Ginger Ale. They have a candle (which they can never let go of) in their left hand resting on the left corner of the table, and a lighter and a Ginger Ale in front of them. They may only drink the Ginger Ale when the candle is lit. They may blow out the other person’s candle but they cannot touch any of the other person’s supplies. The winner is the person who can finish their Ginger Ale first when their candle is lit.

  • if you move your candle off the left side of the table, you lose!
  • if you touch the other person’s candle, you lose!
  • if you touch the other person’s Ginger Ale, you lose!
  • if you touch the other person’s lighter, you lose!

You must find the balance between drinking and blowing out your opponent’s candle.

two candles in candle holders (so that wax doesn’t drip on contestant’s hand)
two lighters
two clear glasses
bottle of Ginger Ale
small table and chairs

GRAB IT I have a special place in my heart for this game, because it was introduced to me by a close friend and mentor who helped me get started in ministry years ago. When I started a campus outreach in 1993, this was the first game I played. (I’m wiping a sentimental tear from my eye.)

Divide into two teams. Put them into two lines parallel and next to one another (about 3 feet apart) sitting down and holding hands. At the back of the line put a bucket of water with a bar of soap in it (if this is on carpet, put a layer of towels down- the water tends to splash, then drip . . . let’s face it, this is a messy game!) between the two lines. Stand at the head of the lines with a quarter in your hand. Instruct them that you are going to flip the quarter so only the first person in line can see the results. They are not to yell out how the quarter landed or even look back at their team. If the quarter lands on heads the persons in front are to squeeze their hands. The rest of the line is to squeeze their hands if their other hand is squeezed so that they can communicate to the last person in the line that the quarter is indeed heads not tails. If the last person in line has their hand squeezed then they are to try to grab the soap out of the bucket before the last person on the other team does. The person successful in retrieving the soap gets to go to the front of the line. The problem arrives however when the message is wrongly communicated to the person in back and they grab the soap only to find out that the quarter was actually tails. At that point the person in front must go to the back of the line. The first team to get their entire team forward in line (back person to front- not front to back), wins.

Variation: Instead of using a coin, you can also use a deck of cards to flip through. When a face card (Jack, Queen, or King) turns up, that is the signal to squeeze.

When the game is still going well, but has gone on for a while, transition to your next activity.

Important Game Principle: Always stop a game while the going’s still good. In other words, stop it while they still want more, not when they’ve already tuned out. It’s always good to leave them with the feeling “Hey, that was fun. I only wish we had more time. I can’t wait till next week!”

Supplies: two buckets full of water
two bars of soap
two (or more) towels
a quarter

This is kind of like musical chairs . . . but much, much better. It works best with an even # of guys and girls (you can make other divisions work- but we’ll just talk about guy/girl now). Have the girls stand in a circle. Now have the guys stand outside of the circle of girls, each guy next to one girl, his partner for the game. Have the inner circle (girls) walk clockwise when the music begins and the outer circle (guys) walk counter-clockwise. When the music stops the leader will yell out two body parts (e.g. “foot to ear”). The girl’s part is always first (ladies first) and the guy’s is second. When the music stops and the leader yells the body parts, the partners need to run straight to each other and put those designated body parts together (e.g. the girl would run to the guy and put her foot on his ear). Great game . . . just think before you yell body parts (e.g. don’t yell “chest to head”).

When you get down to the last two “couples,” it’s nice to see how dedicated they are. You can yell something like “lip to lip!”


This game saved me a few times because I was always looking for games that would work for over 100 students. This game is a good one for a big group (at least 20, but up to hundreds). Quickly divide into 2 or more teams and announce that each team will be racing to squeeze into the shape of the item mentioned. For example: if the leader yells out the word “football” the teams must squeeze into the shape of a football as would be seen from above. Keep score- first team to 10 wins.

Good squeeze shapes (“Squeeze into the shape of …”)
The State of California
A dog
A pair of sunglasses
A baseball bat
A shark
A map of the U.S.A.
Jonathan (your youth group leader)

You can draw 5 names from the audience- or use the “Big Balloon Bop” to choose students. My assistant walked on stage with a big box labeled “BOX 1.” I told the young man on stage with the #1 card that he could have the box or . . . $10. He wanted the box. I dug in my pocket and offered him another $10, a total of $20. This went on until he finally took $40 cash. We revealed box #1 contained a $5 container of liquorices.

Contestant #2 learned that previously the money was the better option. However, when I offered him box #2 he wanted it. I offered him $40, then $60. Some of the crowd is yelling “take the money!” The other half of the crowd is yelling “The Box! The Box!” He still demanded the box. Finally I offered him $80 cash . . . he took it. We opened box 2 to find a TV/VCR combo worth almost $200. The crowd went crazy!

Contestant #3 was convinced that the box was pretty good! We went through the same thing and after he still demanded the box after offering him $40 cash, I told him he could have the box! We opened the box . . . and he won a TROUT!!! Yes, a cold dead fish! The crowd went crazy! You should have seen the poor kid’s face.

Prize 4 was a singing stuffed reindeer and prize 5 was a certificate to our next event.

Fun stuff- I’ve never done it without rehearsing the order with my assistant. The key is smooth transitions and knowing what’s in the boxes!

A pocket full of money
an assistant or two who rehearsed with you
5 pre-arranged prizes that fit in the same sized boxes
5 labeled boxes (eg: BOX 1, BOX 2 . . .)

GUESS WHO Tell everyone to write a name on the provided piece of paper WITHOUT showing anyone else. Let them know that others will be trying to guess which name they wrote, so they should try to be discreet with the name they choose. Each player writes the name they choose and then passes it to the judge. After the judge receives all the slips, he mixes them up and writes the names on an easel, chalkboard, or piece of posterboard for all to see.

The judge picks a real person (Frank), not a name on the board, to start. Frank chooses someone and guesses what their name might be. “Bob”, I think you wrote “Cinderella.” If Frank is correct, Bob is now on Frank’s team and Frank gets to guess again. If Bob is not “Cinderella” then it’s Bob’s turn to guess.

Now Bob can ask anyone he pleases. Bob might ask Julie, “Julie, are you “Abraham Lincoln?” If Julie is Abraham Lincoln, she goes on Bob’s team and Bob guesses someone else. If not- it’s now Julies turn.

Once people join teams, they work together to guess other people onto their team. Once the person who’s name was still anonymous is guessed correctly, that entire team moves to the guesser’s team. Play continues until all but one player has been guessed- he or she will end up being the player with everyone on his team.

pieces of paper for everyone
pens for everyone
an easel, chalkboard, or piece of poster board to write all the names on for all to see

This game is really fun. It sounds goofy- but I’ve had gang kids playing this game and having a blast! It gets difficult with more than twenty people; it is better for groups of 15 or so. It’s perfect for smaller groups, leadership retreats, etc.

Everyone gets in a circle and is given an animal in which they are assigned a hand motion that represents that animal.

Hand Motions (a few examples)

    •  Elephant- hang one arm down with your other arm wrapped around it, holding your nose (like a trunk)


    • Mosquito- with your left hand hold up a peace sign with the inside of your hand facing you, with your right hand poke your index finger pointing forward and place it in the middle of the peace sign in your left hand; now bring your hands to your face like you have a mosquito nose


    • Cow- put your hand at your stomach with your fingers sticking out like an udder


    • Deer- point a finger on each hand upward, placing your hands on top of your head (like single horns)


    • Moose- open your hands with fingers spread wide and place hands on your head with thumbs touching the top of your head (moose antlers)


How To Play
Let’s say that 12 people are playing this game. They are all in a circle. The Elephant, in the 12 o’clock position of the circle is the leader. Then in the 11 o’clock position the mosquito then whatever order you like. The animal is always in the same position- as people move, they assume the animal in that particular seat or place in the circle. The object is to get to be the elephant. As people mess up in this game, they have to move back to the one o’clock position and work their way up again as others mess up.

The elephant starts the game by doing his own signal then another animal’s signal, such as the cow. The cow must then do his own signal and another animal’s signal immediately. A certain rhythm or speed is set by the elephant (by how fast he or she does the signals). Everyone must keep that rhythm- no hesitations. If an individual pauses, forgets to do their signal, or messes up the signal in any way, then he or she must go back to the one o’clock position. Lets say that the cow is always in the 10 o’clock position. If the person that was the cow messes up, then he or she goes to the one o’clock position and is now a snake (for example). The person who was the deer (in the 9 o’clock position) is now the cow and so on down the line. When ever someone messes up, it is only the people below them that are affected and have to move up to a new animal. If the elephant messes up, everyone moves because he is the highest position.

This is a great “get to know ya” and a memory game. I always play it at the beginning of the year when I have a bunch of new students. This game is where I end up learning their names.

Everybody is in a circle. Everyone takes a turn saying their name and something about themself (example, “Hi, I’m John and I play football.”). The next person needs to say the previous person’s name and item of interest before saying their own (example, “He’s John, he plays football and I’m Mary and I torture small animals”). As this game moves on, people need to remember more and more information. With bigger groups you can have them only repeat the names to save time.

Sad but true. When in doubt, resort to beating each other with objects. Students love this!

I started by putting everyone in a circle. I had everyone say their name around the circle. Then I grabbed a rolled up newspaper and asked “who would like to hit their friends?” After choosing someone (a lot of raised hands, I’m sure you guessed), I explained the goal at hand. (Notice I still haven’t called this a game.) Here’s how it goes:

Items needed: Rolled up newspaper or pillow (pillow is actually preferable).

Group size: Usually for no more than about 30-35 people

Have everyone sit in a circle or something as close as you can get. Then, have each person give their name and make sure each name is clearly said so that all others can hear it. After going through the names once or even twice, have someone start in the middle by asking a person to call the name of someone in the room. The person in the middle proceeds to find the person and tries to ‘whop’em’ with a rolled up newspaper (or pillow) before that person can say both their name and someone else’s name in the room. If they get ‘whooped’ before they can say their name and someone else’s name, they are now “it.” Also, if the person whose name is called fails to say both their name and another person’s name, they will have to be it. The person who is in the middle takes the place of the person they ‘whoop.’ This helps people learn each others’ name and mixes kids around with each other. Great fun– students love it!

two rolled up newspapers (one for back up when the first shreds)

Give everyone a balloon and a piece of string or yarn. Have them blow up the balloon and tie it to their ankle. Then announce that they are to try to stomp out other people’s balloons while keeping their own safe. Last person with a blown up balloon wins.

enough balloons for everyone
enough PRE-CUT 18 inch pieces of string for everyone

This one’s great! Again, remember NOT to say, “Now we’re going to play a game!” (Rule #1 of “THE SEVEN”) Just announce that you need everyone to stand in two lines and start numbering them off.

This is the traditional “Steal the Bacon” but with hockey sticks and a ball. The idea is this: Divide into two teams (four if you’re brave- then run the game the same but in a big square). Line each team along the sidelines of the play area. Number them off- teams must be even so each number has an opponent across the play area. Place approximately 10 hockey sticks in the middle of the play area and a small ball. Specify one wall as the direction one team will go- and the opposite wall for the other.

Yell out a number (11, for example). Both “number 11’s” run out, pick up a hockey stick and try to hit the ball toward their specified wall (or goal). First to hit their wall (or goal) with the ball, wins that match.

This game gets more interesting as you yell out multiple numbers (eg: “3,7,13 and 15!”) You end up with a little hockey match.

Students always love this game!

approx. ten hockey sticks
1 ball

This is one of the best games you can play with a crowd or an audience!

The up-front person (M.C.) divides teams (in big audiences you can make each section of chairs a group). Each team has a designated team captain or runner standing in front of their section and wearing a hat with tape all over it (sticky side up). The M.C. then yells out a demand for a somewhat common item that people might have on them. The team finds that item and sticks it on their team captain’s/runner’s head. The first captain/runner with the item stuck to their head who runs up to the M.C. wins that round.

Good Items to Call:
I need a shoelace
I need a student body card
I need a piece of chewed gum
I need a picture of a baby
I need 3 neclaces tied together
I need a drivers license
I need a $20 bill
I need a self-plucked red hair
I need 3 belts hooked together
I need a hand written note

Teams must leave the items stuck on the hat until the end of the game.
Great fun! Take Pictures!

Enough “sticky hats” for each captain (each hat pre-taped with sticky side up)

This is a great game that forces everyone to have to go around and meet others. Have everyone secretly write down the name of a person on a small piece of paper. It has to be a person that everyone in the room would know about (eg. Jesus, George Washington, Madonna, Brad Pitt, etc.) Then have them tape the name on the back of the person on their left. Everyone must now go around and ask people yes or no questions about who is on their back. They can only ask each person one question. The person who guesses their identity in the least number of asks wins.

pieces of paper for everyone
pens for everyone
piece of tape for everyone

These games are some of Jonathan’s favorites from his book THE TOP 12 RESOURCES YOUTH WORKERS WANT.